History: The modern movement for LGBTQ rights in the United States began to snowball over fifty years ago with two defining events on opposite coasts. On an August morning in 1966 at Gene Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, police began arresting drag queens, trans and gay people from inside the cafeteria.
The police harassment was a regular occurrence by that point, but on this particular morning, the patrons at Compton’s had enough. One drag queen threw coffee in the face of an officer, and the powder keg exploded. The shakedown grew into a full scale riot with dishes and cutlery flying through the air, and was “the first known instance of collective militant queer resistance to police harassment in United States history,” according to historian Susan Stryker.
In 1969, a similar situation arose at the Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village. When police raided the popular bar and arrested patrons inside, the gay community decided they’d
had enough and erupted into a series of escalating protests. Just as Compton’s Cafeteria Riot spawned much of the trans activism that has pushed the fight for civil rights forward, the Stonewall Riots gave birth to many of the organizations that would carry on the struggle, including the Gay Liberation Front.
Issue: Despite the long history of the struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer rights in the United States, the LGBTQ community still faces multiple forms of legal discrimination on a regular basis. Though the right to same-sex marriage is now nationally protected, LGBTQ individuals have no such guarantees for their rights to equal education, employment, housing, healthcare, and other opportunities.
In many states, “religious liberty” laws are passed as pretext for legalizing discrimination against LGBTQ individuals. Additionally, “bathroom bills” that prohibit transgender people from using the correct restrooms in schools, workplaces, and countless other public places have taken hold in Southern state legislatures as a tool to prevent trans people from being able to live as their true selves.
Proposal: Today, we have come a long way, but we still have just as far to go. To bring the LGBTQ community’s legacy of activism and fight for civil rights full circle, we must pass legislation specifically granting all citizens the right to equal protection regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
By amending Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Congress can extend the definition of prohibition on discrimination “because of sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity. This has been long overdue. We also must guarantee through legislation that no individual be denied any of their constitutional rights regardless of state or local “religious liberty” protections or bathroom bills. This next step towards legal equality in the U.S. is long overdue, and every day millions of LGBTQ people suffer the consequences of their federal government’s failure to provide protection from predatory local and state legislatures.
Vickers v. Fairfield Medical Center, 453 F.3d 757 (6th Cir. 2006).